Monday, December 20, 2010

Trip to the Galilee

December 20, 2010

This weekend we went on a trip to the Sea of Galilee, which is called the Kineret in Hebrew (pictures already up on facebook!). We started Friday off by canoeing on the Jordan River, which, where we were at least, was quite still, small, and quiet. I was in a canoe with Jodi, and both of us were in heaven. Canoeing makes me think about camp and Lake Homovalo and wave canoes, so how could I not be happy? Plus, the scenery was gorgeous, and we saw wild donkeys! They were just chilling, drinking from the river. Including a baby one! I tried to befriend them, but they didn’t seem into it. Their loss.

After canoeing we went to Tzfat/Sfat/however you want to spell it, which is a traditionally religiously Jewish town. We went to the artists’ section, which is made up of narrow twisting alleys in pale yellow brick – super Israeli looking. Unfortunately, as it was approaching Shabbat, pretty much everything was shut down when we got there, but we still got to wander around and see the layout of the place. We had 25 minutes to wander around, which Nancy, Katie and I took to listen to Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” and interpretive dance our hearts out. It was actually really fun. The people of Sfat were very confused.

Then we sat in a little courtyard and talked about the issues/challenges facing Sfat. The two big ones are the push between the orthodox, who want it to remain an orthodox community, and the more secular people, who want it to be more touristy. The other major issue is the Jewish/Arab tensions, which resulted in the recent letter by Rabbis telling Jews not to rent apartments to non-Jews, especially Arabs. I’ll write more about this letter after I’ve actually read it, because I don’t want to talk about things I don’t have first-hand knowledge of, but I do feel comfortable saying that this is atrocious and needs to be stopped.

After Sfat we went to a sort of commune/gated community. It’s not a kibbutz, but not a regular town, but there is no real American equivalent I can use. We had a Shabbat service/thinger outside, led by Amy and Dante. Amy is Reconstructionist, so she created a service that everyone could get into, which was nice. During it, I snuggled with Katie, who both kept me warm and, as a relatively non-religious person herself, kept me feeling good even when I didn’t know the songs/prayers that everyone else was singing. Then we went inside and had a delicious dinner, followed by a variety of shenanigans and a vigorous sing along that covered the hits of Disney, Rent, and everything in between.

The next morning we had a storytelling workshop with two people from the community. It was very dialogic in a sense, but was also, subtly, about how to tell a story in a compelling and concise way. This is something that I think we can all benefit from, and something that as volunteers and Americans in a strange land, we can use all the time. We are constantly being asked for our stories, or for some story about our lives (“Why did you chose to come to Israel?” “What do you do in America?” “What kind of Jew are you?”) and it will be good for all of us to be able to be able to tell that better. Some more than others, of course, but good for everyone. We had the workshop in a yurt, which also made me deeply nostalgic for camp and the KILT yurt. Good times.

After the workshop we drove up into the mountains for a hike, which I sadly could not go on because my hips have been acting up. L But apparently it was a very fun hike, even though it was raining a bit, so I’m glad everyone else had fun. After that we headed back to Tel Aviv.

It was a very fun trip, with lots of group bonding time, which is always excellent. Our next trip is in January to Eilat, which should be amazing too.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


December 19, 2010

Today is my grandpa’s yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his death. According to Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle that burns all day as a memorial. The people at the grocery store think I’m crazy because I just went and bought this candle and two containers of sprinkles for cookie decorating later this evening. But anyway, the candle is burning next to me as I write this.

I realize that he would be 101 if he were alive today. That is hella old. I feel so lucky to have gotten to know him for as long as I did, and the first nineteen years of my life were so much the better because he was in them. I’ll never forget my daily second breakfast with him in Maui, singing the “My Mom Gave Me a Pickle” song in the backseat of the car with him, and how smiley and proud he always was of everything I did, even if it was just drawing him a ridiculous picture.

I remember at his funeral, my grandma took my sister, cousin and I aside and told us that Papa had never worried about us succeeding, he knew we would do that. Rather, he worried that we wouldn’t have enough fun, take enough time for our own enjoyment. I’ve really tried to remember that, and I’ve been much more conscious of finding that balance since she told us that. In light of that, tonight I’m going to go get a drink with a friend or two to remember him instead of sitting around and being sad.

The moral of the story: Papa was awesome, and I was lucky to have had him in my life.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


December 5, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about race and privilege these last few weeks. Which begs the question: when am I not thinking a lot about race and privilege? Hopefully never, but that is sort of beside the point. Actually, no, that kind of is the point. This is an excellent start to a coherent and well organized blog post, don’t you think?

The other week, Avital showed us a short film called “Strangers” by Erez Tadmor. You can watch it here (it’s only seven minutes long.) What happens is this: an Arab (as evidenced by his Arabic newspaper) and a Jew (as evidenced by his Star of David necklace) are sitting across the aisle from each other on a train. The Jew, noticing the newspaper, takes his star out of his shirt and starts staring aggressively at the Arab. They exchange heated glances, and you wonder if it’s going to come to blows. Before it can, however, a group of four neo-nazis (as evidenced by the swastikas shaved into their heads) come onto the train and start harassing the Arab. They spray-paint a swastika on his newspaper, and seem about to beat him up. The Jew does nothing. Then, right when he seems to be in the clear, his cell phone starts to ring. It’s “Hava Negila.” He can’t find the phone, it won’t stop “Hava Neglia”-ing, and the skinheads are, as you might imagine, suddenly very interested in him. The train is pulling into a stop; the Jew and the Arab exchange a look, and both bolt off the train, using their backpacks and shields and the confusion of both of them running to confuse the skinheads. They safely escape the train, exchange backpacks with each other (they had ended up with each other’s), exchange a “thanks bro” look, and then leave their separate ways.

What was interesting about this film for me, aside from the idea that a common enemy will unite humanity (are you listening, aliens/cylons?), is the performance of white privilege. The Jew chooses to disclose his identity as a Jew to the Arab (whose religion we don’t know, so we can’t call this a Jewish/Muslim issue, but a Jewish/Arab one) seemingly in order to make the Arab feel threatened and uncomfortable. The Arab’s identity is known from the outset; even if he weren’t reading the Arabic newspaper, his skin color would be a big indictor. He has no choice in the disclosure of his identity. The Jew, however, can pass as a Christian, but chooses not to in that moment. Jews are dominant over Arabs in most places (we don’t know where this takes place – it could be any city with an underground train system) so he is asserting an agent (dominant) identity that is in direct oppressive aggression to the Arab’s target (oppressed) identity.

When the skinheads come into play, however, he tucks his star into his shirt, essentially erasing his Jewishness, an identity that has instantly changed from agent to target. While the skinheads are threatening the Arab, and preparing to do him serious bodily harm, the Jew does nothing. He cloaks himself in his privilege and masks his fear with indifference. He does not make eye contact with anyone and seems to be trying to wait it out. When his phone rings, it outs him as a potential target (get it, target identity!) and his privilege is immediately stripped away. He is now an even better target than the Arab for the skinheads, and it is only when he personally is threatened by danger that he connects with the Arab man on a mutual level, and they fight their way out together.

While the maker of the movie seems to imply that the skinheads, and possibly initial prejudice, are the enemies in this film, I also see the inaction of the Jew as an enemy. He does not stand up for the Arab, even when he is still considered to have white Christian privilege. While he is passing, he does nothing. He only finds common humanity with the Arab when it is his own safety on the line. I know that facing down a pack of violent skinheads is not high on anyone’s to-do list, but, for me at least, neither is doing nothing while neo-nazis brutalize someone for being Arab.

This putting on white Christian privilege is an issue constantly facing American Jews, especially Ashkenazi Jews, whether we like it or not. So many Jews hide behind their Judaism when confronted with the white privilege they carry (“I can’t be racist, my grandmother survived the Holocaust.”) They need to see that they have white privilege, and many can pass for Christian. This is a privilege we carry and we wear and we perform, to greater or lesser extents. This man has the choice to disclose; he even chose to set his ringtone to “Hava Negila,” and while I’m sure he wasn’t anticipating it getting him into so much trouble, it was certainly an act of disclosure. We must stop hiding behind the target identity of Judaism, which, as we see in the film, is not always a target identity, and claim and use our white privilege to fight to end oppression, racism, and privilege for all people.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Grand Adventure

December 4, 2010

Today I’m not writing about Israel and Israeli things, but taking a moment to share and be excited about my plans for after Israel! Hannah and I are going to be spending the three months between the end of Tikkun Olam and my Mount Holyoke Reunion in May travelling around Europe and South America. We’re calling it our GRAND ADVENTURE.

Here is our current itinerary. If you are, or know someone, in these places who wants to let us sleep on their couch/floor, that would be super delightful!

Feb 1: Tikkun Olam ends

Feb 1-15: AMY AND EMMA’S SUPER TAGLIT (BIRTHRIGHT): Travel around parts of Israel I haven’t seen yet with Amy

Feb 16: THE GRAND ADVENTURE Fly to Lisbon, Portugal

Feb 16-April 3: Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, and Prague!

April 3-4: Fly from Berlin to Tel Aviv, pick up my suitcases, and give some love to Tikkun Olamers who will still be here.

April 5: Fly to LA

April 8: Fly to Rio!

April 8-May 17: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica (hopefully all of them, some might have to be eliminated due to money and travel considerations)

May 18: Fly from Costa Rica to Boston

May 18-22: Mount Holyoke Reunions!

The most important question raised here is: WHO AM I. Jetsetting off to Rio? I can’t wait to be one of those worldly obnoxious people that says things like “Oh, yes, I picked this up the last time I was in Prague,” and “This is from a homemade crafts market in Brazil,” and “This ‘Peruvian’ food really isn’t like the real thing, which I know because I was there!” Feel free to slap me if needed.

But HOT DAMN, I am so excited.

Now all I need is for El Al to answer their phone on Shabbat (seriously, El AL? You’re an international business! What are you doing?) so I can change my flight from Tel Aviv to LA from February to April, and then I will be 100% set!

Hello world travelling. Hello privilege. Nice to have you guys meet! Let’s party.

Also, I’m fighting being sick. So sorry if this is not up to my usual deeply profound and intellectually provocative standards! Blame my slow-responding white blood cells.